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Cinematic: Spencer Tracy, Naturally


By Wendy Soderburg '82

Published Jan 1, 2012 12:00 AM


Tracy and Helen Vinson star in The Power and the Glory, directed by William K. Howard. Photos courtesy of the UCLA Film & Television Archive

When you hear the name Spencer Tracy, you probably also think of Katharine Hepburn, his leading lady both on and off the screen for 26 years. But on his own, Tracy was amazingly prolific — appearing in 75 feature films from 1930 until his death in 1967 — and was ranked No. 9 on the American Film Institute's list of American male screen legends.

To honor Tracy, the UCLA Film & Television Archive and the Hugh M. Hefner Classic American Film Program are presenting "Spencer Tracy: That Natural Thing," a film series featuring such Tracy gems as The Power and the Glory (1933), the story of a man who rises to run a railroad company at the cost of his family ties; Adam's Rib (1949), the wonderful face-off of Tracy and Hepburn as opposing lawyers; and Inherit the Wind (1960), which earned Tracy an Oscar nomination for his portrayal of the 1925 Scopes trial's defense lawyer Henry Drummond.

Running through February at the Billy Wilder Theater, the series is a tribute to the actor who came to represent "the morally introspective, spiritually embattled everyman."


Tracy and Hepburn play dueling lawyers in Adam's Rib.

"Among movie actors, Tracy was distinctive for his interiorized, thoughtful style, while other actors focused on being demonstrative and external," says Shannon Kelley, head of public programs for UCLA's Film & Television Archive. "His mode of acting was similar to method acting in that the character was the master of the role.

"What's interesting is that he was famous for never getting into makeup effects or changing his body very much. From one film to another, especially if they were in modern, urban settings, it was the same guy coming out. The audience was paying to see the guy they wanted to see."

A Tracy fan himself, Kelley says that a film tribute was inevitable. "He's a great favorite. He's had such a momentous career, it's easy to overlook him or take him for granted," he says. "Whether he had an evil streak or was in deep pain, he communicated in a powerful and subtle way that was uniquely his."

"Spencer Tracy: That Natural Thing." January-February 2012. Billy Wilder Theater. Tickets: $9; free to all UCLA students; $8 for other students, seniors and UCLA Alumni Association members. For more information, visit or call (310) 206-FILM.